Water issues creep up on Santa Maria growers - The Packer

Water issues creep up on Santa Maria growers

04/16/2014 12:54:00 PM
Mike Hornick

Santa Maria is in much better shape than California’s San Joaquin Valley when it comes to adequate water for crop production, but supply is limited. Without significant amounts of rain in coming months, plantings could be reduced.

“It’s yet to be determined whether our acreage on some items might have to be cut back to make sure we have enough water for what we need to grow down there,” said Henry Dill, sales manager at Salinas-based Pacific International Marketing.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in the state in January.

“This dry of a winter has never happened before, especially in the San Joaquin Valley,” Dill said. “Maybe it’s happened in history, but not in my memory. Local reservoirs are below 10% of capacity. That’s cause for concern for everybody.”

“Water is dominating in a way we haven’t seen issues necessarily dominate before,” said Claire Wineman, president of the Guadalupe-based Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara & San Luis Obispo Counties.

Santa Maria, like Salinas, relies on well water rather than on water allocations from an irrigation district.

“If the aquifer doesn’t have much water because it hasn’t rained, we still could have problems,” Dill said.

“We won’t necessarily see the effects this spring, but if the drought continues through next year we will see all growers making some adjustments in their acreage,” said Ande Manos, saleswoman for Santa Maria-based Babé Farms.

“In the Santa Maria Valley, it’s an adjudicated groundwater basin and the most recent studies found groundwater levels are within historical ranges,” said Wineman. “So we’re not yet experiencing the immediate impacts of the drought that other areas are, but we’re looking to be as efficient as possible.”

Don Klusendorf, director of sales and marketing at Santa Maria-based Bonipak Produce Inc., agreed on the importance of conservation.

“That’s why a majority of our irrigation is done through drip tape,” he said.

Drip irrigation has been common in Santa Maria in the past decade, Wineman said, but that and other conservation measures continue to gain momentum.

“Drip is a component,” she said. “There has been a tremendous increase in efficiencies over the last couple years.”

Brent Scattini, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Maria-based Gold Coast Packing Inc., said his company has sufficient water for its broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and cilantro ... for now.

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